ELCA Youth Are "Very Special People"

7/1/2000 12:00:00 AM

     ST. LOUIS (ELCA) -- "Everyone here is a 'VSP' -- a very special person," Archbishop Desmond Tutu told 22,000 high-school-age Lutherans gathered here for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Youth Gathering, "Dancing at the Cross Roads."  The retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, spoke during the gathering's evening program June 30 at the Trans World Dome.
     The ELCA Youth Gathering is meeting June 28-July 2 and July 5- 9.  The two events bring together some 40,000 Lutheran young people and adults, who are engaging in worship, Bible study, community service and fun.
     "What a wonderful joy to be here with you.  I think you are neat," Tutu told the young people.  "Thank you for the invitation to speak at this very special occasion."
     Under the theme "Dancing with the Stranger," Tutu delivered a message of forgiveness and reconciliation.  He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his contributions to the cause of racial justice in South Africa, and was appointed head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by Nelson Mandela in 1995.  Tutu is the Robert W. Woodruff Visiting Professor at Emory University, Atlanta.
     "I come from South Africa," Tutu said, "a country consumed with the most awful violence.  Victims there told the truth about the atrocities in South Africa.  The world watched and listened to stories of people in oppression, and the world wept as they wept."
     South Africa chose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, Tutu said.  "A miracle unfolded before our eyes. South Africa moved from "oppression to freedom" and from "injustice to democracy.  We were prayed for," he said.
     In the United States, Tutu said, people, especially young people, were deeply committed to dismantling Apartheid.  "I came to this country, spoke to college and university students, and my heart was warmed."  He said students held demonstrations,  grades became a lower priority for students, and they persuaded universities to divest.  "People were ready to be arrested on our behalf."
     "Look at us now.  We are free.  Our victory is also your victory.  On behalf of millions thank you, thank you, thank you and thank you," Tutu told the young people.  His remarks drew cheers and a standing ovation.
     Tutu said "there is no future without forgiveness and reconciliation," even in a relationship between a quarreling husband and wife.  "If there is no forgiveness, then that relationship is doomed.  There is no future."
     God needs you to be his partner, Tutu told the Lutheran teen- agers.  "God says, 'Hey, I have no one else but you to be my partner ... to help bring forgiveness in a world torn apart.'  God says, 'I love you.  I love you.  I love you.  You are special and I love you. Everything else is a response to my love.  My love is one that will not change.'"
     Tutu said the love of God is "extraordinary."  God has a soft spot for sinners, he said.
     "Like Martin Luther King Jr., God says, 'I have a dream.  I have a dream for a new kind of world, one of forgiveness and reconciliation, ... kindness and sharing.'  God says, 'I have you, and you, and you, and you, to realize my dream.' Go from here knowing that you are God's partner," Tutu said.
     For Opeyemi Odebode, 19, a member of Christ Lutheran Church, Washington, D.C., Tutu is "like a father."  Tutu "taught me that we can help someone else who has been through tough times in life.  He is a marvelous speaker, and Tutu is like a father -- funny and encouraging."
     Evening emcees were Kacey Hahn, director of youth ministries at King of Glory Lutheran Church, Tempe, Ariz.  Hahn attends Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.  Music was provided by Jennifer Knapp,Creative Artists Agency, Nashville, Tenn.

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John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG


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